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Elly Miller: Bird Lover

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


The arts in general are a place of practice, rigorous process, and "just keep working at it," where young artists are seen as needing to work there way up to a point where they can "make it" among the more seasoned members of their community. Rarely do we see an artist pop out of nowhere. But Elly Tullis is one of those artists who seems to have come out of the blue to many in Fort Wayne's art scene. Rarely exhibiting, keeping out of the limelight when possible, working away at her craft, building impeccable works meant to be appreciated for the long haul, not a happy moment of popularity and then off to the basement.

Tullis, a Fort Wayne native, currently based in Corunna, Indiana has created an artistic practice and a body of work that is hard to "read." The easy comparisons to her work would be Chuck Close, Jenny Saville, and Cecily Brown. Close's concern with color theory and representation; Saville's large scale; and Brown’s flip-flopping between figure and abstraction/foreground and background are all elements of Miller’s work. Their combination of abstraction and heavy brushwork mixed with a strong respect for the figure work in relation to Tullis's overall image in certain ways, but they lack the meticulous flavor of her process. Tullis's images are so easily mistaken for a combination of abstraction and figuration when really, they can be seen in more a perceptual light, or existing in a sort of a flickr-time that the information perceived about the work around us is translated in a concrete image in our mind’s eye. In this way, Tullis's work is much more closely related to Cezanne, or Joan Mitchell, that the aforementioned post-modernist artists who juxtapose to opposing models rather than the latter artists who decompose reality into distinct colors. Through this incredible use of paint, creating hundreds of references while astutely not falling into one of the "derivative pits" so commonly found by young artists, Tullis's work shines.

Images like "The Cross Eyed King & The Canadian Goose,” for instance, are heavy in their use of defined, composed brush strokes of pure color, which push and pull in a strong Hoffmanian style to eventually compose her intended images. Those images mostly being of birds and people.

Tullis's current solo exhibition, "Elly Tullis: Bird Lover," is a perfect example of how a contemporary artist must live to work, slaving away in the studio for months, defining themselves in undeniably strenuous systems of image and object making, until they have a body of work worthy of exhibition. This exhibition of 26 paintings (three diptychs) create a microcosm in which Tullis's audience is drawn in and given permission to lose themselves. Many times, the portraits of birds, like "Mr &Mrs Ostrich," and "Four Black Crows in a Pasture" end up giving the impression of being portraits, as much or more-so representing individuals than some of her figurative works like "The Back Scratcher" and others. This brings to mind many cultural and art historical references for the meaning of birds, referenced from mythologies or religions. Birds, according to the dream dictionary, are meant to represent transcendence and freedom. The types of birds are meant to represent specific attitudes, or ways of thinking (Black birds, for instance, are not meant to represent positive symbols in most cultures).

Tullis seems to pull much of this esoteric meaning in to work through the representation of birds as people, a practice going back to ancient Egyptian mythology, where the "Ka" or soul of a person was represented as their face and head with a birds body. However, within modern art history, Barnett Newman famously coined the phrase, "Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds." One can not think past Tullis maybe being playful here, and riffing off of this statement, creating a body of work that represents her love of painting more than the deeper implications of the use of birds within her work, turning this gorgeous grouping of images into as much of an inside joke as it is a manifesto for the soul.

Elly Tullis is an example of the excellence found in northeast Indiana's arts community, which is many times overlooked. Her painting style is unique, her content always fresh without being overly trendy or disconnected from art history.

With "Bird Lovers", Tullis has produced something with the ability to travel and speak to many different audiences. Her ability to keep a studio practice is commendable, and rare here, which will make her desirable to galleries outside of our market. With more artists hopefully taking note of her work and the way that she is effortlessly speaking the industry language, we will see a large community of working artists, turning their practices into careers.

For more information:
"Elly Tullis: Bird Lover"
Wunderkammer Company
3402 Fairfield Ave

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